Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing Internet traffic on specific flu-related Wikipedia articles.

David McIver and John Brownstein's model, publishing in PLOS Computational Biology on April 17th, estimates flu levels in the American population up to two weeks sooner than data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention becomes available, and accurately estimates the week of peak influenza activity 17% more often than Google Flu Trends data.

McIver and Brownstein calculated the number of times certain Wikipedia articles were accessed every day from December 2007 to August 2013. The model they developed performed well both through influenza seasons that are more severe than normal and through events such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 that received high levels of media attention.

The authors comment: "Each influenza season provides new challenges and uncertainties to both the public as well as the public health community. We're hoping that with this new method of influenza monitoring, we can harness publicly available data to help people get accurate, near-realtime information about the level of disease burden in the population."

Following further validation, the model could be used as an automatic system to model flu levels in the USA, providing support for traditional influenza surveillance tools.

More information: McIver DJ, Brownstein JS (2014) Wikipedia Usage Estimates Prevalence of Influenza-Like Illness in the United States in Near Real-Time. PLoS Comput Biol 10(4): e1003581. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003581

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Younger adults hit hardest this flu season

Apr 15, 2014

(HealthDay)—The H1N1 flu was the predominant influenza strain in the United States this year, but it packed a lot less punch than in 2009 when it caused a worldwide pandemic, health officials report.

Sea otters can get the flu, too

Apr 08, 2014

Northern sea otters living off the coast of Washington state were infected with the same H1N1 flu virus that caused the world-wide pandemic in 2009, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey and Centers for ...

Recommended for you

Lebanon reports first suspected case of Ebola

1 hour ago

A Lebanese man who arrived from West Africa is suspected of having Ebola and was quarantined on Thursday in a Beirut hospital, the first such suspected case in the country, Lebanon's health minister said.

New, faster therapeutic hypothermia techniques

2 hours ago

Rapid lowering of body temperature following an acute myocardial infarction (MI) can be an effective therapeutic strategy to minimize damage to the heart muscle caused by the loss and restoration of blood ...

Sri Lanka celebrates two years without malaria

6 hours ago

Sri Lanka has not reported a local case of malaria since October 2012, according to the Sri Lankan Anti-Malarial Campaign. If it can remain malaria-free for one more year, the country will be eligible to apply to the World ...

User comments